Jan. 12 (AFP)
JERUSALEM, The Israeli army on Monday insisted that all weapons being used in its Gaza campaign were within the bounds of international law amid accusations it was using controversial white phosphorus shells.
Asked whether the military was using white phosphorus, an army spokesman refused to confirm or deny the claim and insisted that everything being used was within the bounds of international law.
"All weapons used by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) are in accordance with international law," he said.
"We are only using what is being used by other Western armies -- we are not using anything out of the ordinary," he said.
Mark Regev, spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said that Israel was only using legal weapons of the type used by other Western armies.
"Israel military forces only use munitions that are acceptable under international law and international convention," he said.
"The type of munitions used by Israel are similar, if not identical, to munitions used by other Western democracies, including NATO members."
His comments came a day after Dr Yusef Abu Rish, a doctor at Gaza City's Nasser hospital, said he had treated at least 55 people suffering burns caused by controversial white phosphorus shells.
Under international law, white phosphorus is banned for use against civilians, but is permitted if used for creating a smokescreen.
Earlier, Human Rights Watch had slammed Israel's use of white phosphorus which it said had been used in areas of Gaza City and the northern district of Jabaliya.
"Israel appears to be using white phosphorus as an "obscurant" (a chemical used to hide military operations), a permissible use in principle under international humanitarian law," HRW said in a statement.
"However, white phosphorus has a significant, incidental, incendiary effect that can severely burn people... The potential for harm to civilians is magnified by Gaza's high population density, among the highest in the world," it said.
The group said its researchers in Israel had observed multiple air-bursts of artillery-fired white phosphorus which would spread the chemical over an area between 125 and 250 meters in diameter.
"Human Rights Watch believes that the use of white phosphorus in densely populated areas of Gaza violates the requirement under international humanitarian law to take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian injury and loss of life," it said.
During Israel's 2006 war against Lebanon's Hezbollah militia, the army was accused of using cluster bombs -- the use of which is banned in civilian areas -- but Israel said they were only being used within the confines of international law.
White phosphorus is a toxic chemical agent which can cause severe burns.
Dispersed in artillery shells, bombs, and rockets, it burns on contact with oxygen and creates a smokescreen to hide the movement of troops.
It can be air-burst or ground burst and is not considered to be a chemical weapon.
White phosphorus shells are considered to be incendiary weapons which are not prohibited under the laws of war.
Use of such shells against military targets is regulated under Protocol III of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Under the international laws of war, their use is banned where other weapons less likely to cause unnecessary suffering are available, HRW said.